AMLO Hasn’t Left Mexico in Almost Two Years and Won’t for G-20

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(Bloomberg) -- Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador hasn’t left the country in almost two years, and he won’t do it for a summit of top global leaders in Japan this month.

AMLO, as he’s known, has focused his first six months as president on domestic issues, from fighting corruption and insecurity to bolstering state-owned oil company Petroleos Mexicanos. That’s occupying so much of his time that on Tuesday he made public a long-expected decision to skip a Group of 20 leaders’ meeting in Osaka on June 28-29.

Mexico will be represented by Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard and Finance Minister Carlos Urzua at the global gathering, AMLO said Tuesday. This would be the first time a Mexican president skips the summit of the most powerful leaders in the world, which has been taking place since 2008.

“I’m not going to be traveling without reason,” he said at one of his morning news conferences in March. “That is, I’m not going to do political tourism. I have many things to do in this country. I’ve always thought that the best foreign policy is domestic policy.”

AMLO’s Emphasis

That’s a new look for Mexico, whose economy is dependent on global integration. It comes at a time when the nation could use more buyers for its exports with the looming threat of tariffs from the U.S., the buyer of 80% of its goods. Attracting international tourists is also important, given that the industry brought in $23 billion last year, trailing only remittances and oil exports as sources of foreign currency.

“There’s a real sense that he doesn’t give importance to what happens internationally, because all of his signals have been along those lines," said Veronica Ortiz, a political analyst who co-hosts a show on Mexico’s non-partisan Congress channel.

A president skipping the G-20 might not be so important in an age when leaders can keep in touch via video conferencing and cell phone. But with AMLO, even that isn’t always the case. He keeps a busy travel schedule within Mexico, holding rallies and roll-outs of his social programs in many of the nation’s poorest towns. His decision to travel commercial and sell the presidential airplane in a show of austerity means that on occasions other leaders can’t easily get a hold of him.

‘Much More Important’

Last month, when President Donald Trump was looking for AMLO to coordinate an announcement on the lifting of steel tariffs, he couldn’t reach him. The president was on a five-hour drive through the rural southern state of Chiapas to a town of 5,000 for an event on an agricultural seed program and had no cell phone reception, according to deputy foreign minister Jesus Seade, who represents AMLO in trade talks.

"For President Lopez Obrador, what he was doing was much more important than making the announcement,” Seade told reporters May 17.

AMLO’s lack of interest in international trips is even more striking when compared to the diplomatic efforts of his immediate predecessors: in his first six months in office, Enrique Pena Nieto made nine international trips, including to China and Japan, while Felipe Calderon traveled aboard four times.

The last time AMLO left the country was in September 2017 when he traveled to Washington and to Cantabria, in Northern Spain, to visit the land of his late grandfather, according to his press office.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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